What's in a (anatomical ) name?
That which we call a brachialis by any other name would flex the antebrachium at the elbow as effectively. So brachialis, were it not brachialis called, retain that dear perfection which it owes without that title. Brachialis, doff thy name, and for that name which is no part of thee, take all my myofibrils.
Excerpt from the first draft of Romeo & Juliet. Scene from yonder gym. Subsequently rewritten, and the rest is history.
Speaking of history.....
The bountiful benefits of exercise are well known. Through exercise we offer our dedication and perspiration in hopes of delaying our expiration. This is nothing new. To this day we continue to apply the basic concepts of exercise that have served civilizations throughout the millennia. From the health improvements derived from general exercise to the rigorous training required of the competitors in the first Olympic Games, exercise has provided a dependable and effective means of obtaining not only a healthy body, but one that could perform at the highest level of competition.
Even a present day company like Nike acknowledges our athletic history in its very name, as Nike was the "Greek goddess of victory." The Romans honored Victoria. I find the origin of names such as these endlessly fascinating, and I’d like to share my enthusiasm regarding the origin of the terminology used in anatomy, physiology, exercise, and medicine.
The common terms we hear, read, and speak regarding these subjects contain immense hidden beauty. By revealing their meaning, my desire is that you'll see these terms in a new light and therefore derive a deeper appreciation and understanding when you next encounter them. These terms not only reflect the imagination and keen observational skills of those individuals who created them, they serve as time capsules by providing a vivid sense of the period and lifestyle of the society that coined them.
Etymology provides a means for us to travel backward in time to experience the sense of wonder that must have both astounded and confounded those individuals assigned to catalog and make sense of such a complex organism as ourselves. I believe their efforts certainly deserve our admiration, as their legacy in terminology alone continues to fuel and color our daily conversations. So, to answer one the most famous questions ever posed, “What’s in a name?” I offer, “Pure magic!”
The origins of the terms that appear in my blogs are the derivations most often referenced during my research. My references include numerous books from my personal collection regarding anatomical word origins, and from various medical dictionaries. If there exists a book regarding these subjects, I probably own it! Additional research was accumulated in libraries which allowed me access to foreign language dictionaries and etymology dictionaries.
The joy of book collecting.
Priceless moments available at a discount!
Books citing the crowning achievements by such historical royalty as Hippocrates, Aristotle, Claudius Galen, Andreas Vesalius, and William Harvey are available for pennies on the dollar. It’s sad though in one sense, to realize that entire lifetimes were devoted to the study and advancement of disciplines such as anatomy, physiology and medicine, and their blood, sweat, and tears are now condensed into a few chapters, and purchased for a mere pittance. Please excuse me for a moment while I collect myself! Okay. I’m back!
A few of my favorite finds include a 1853 book on Human Anatomy, and a 1906 book titled The Anatomy and Physiology of The Eye. This book included the business card of the Medical Doctor who wrote it! The crown jewel in my collection is without a doubt, a 1928 first edition copy of the Tercentennial Edition of William Harvey’s Anatomical Exercises on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals. This landmark book was first published in 1628. He is the discoverer of the circulation of the blood, and therefore the true function of the heart. This remains my favorite historical anatomy and physiology book of all time.
Anatomists are all Latin lovers!
Incidentally, the current internationally agreed upon language of anatomy is Latin. Terminologia Anatomica is the international standard on terminology related to human anatomy. It contains terminology for thousands of human gross anatomical structures. It was developed by the Federative Committee on Anatomical Terminology, and the International Federation of Associations of Anatomists, and was released in 1998. It supersedes the previous standard, Nomina Anatomica. In anatomy, the term “gross” is synonymous with macroscopic, which means an object “large enough to be viewed with the unaided eye.”
We’ll discover in some cases, that a part of the body did not immediately conjure up a suitable name. Our present day os coxae, or "hip bones," is such an example. It was first named the os innominatum, or the "unnamed bone." A composite of three fused, and named bones, the ilium, ischium, and pubis, the structure as a whole was called the os innominatum, despite the obvious contradiction in terms.
Incidentally, expect to see names such as os coxae appear in other variations such as os coxa, coxal bones, os innominata, innominate bones, etc. In many cases it's simply the singular and plural forms of the term. In future posts I’ll cover in greater detail the individually named bones which comprise the os coxae, as we visit the various structures related to the pelvis, which means “basin or bowl.”
Until next time….